Bots Gone Wild

October 9, 2018 / by Ronald Tichenor

Another bot has gone hog wild in recent days, this time on Bitstamp. This one briefly affected Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, and Litecoin, sending prices wildly out of whack with the rest of the market. Congrats to those who had buy orders in on Litecoin down to $1.29 because they got filled. Five minutes later it was back to $57. That’s some good trading if you can get it.

This isn’t a new thing, crypto exchanges see this happen from time to time. Extreme examples like the Litecoin crash are common enough in crypto that some experienced traders regularly have buy orders down at low prices just for this sort of event. A bot freakout like this one, a fat-fingered order, or a flash crash can fill an otherwise absurdly low-priced order making somebody some easy coin.

We think charges from some quarters that this jeopardizes the integrity of crypto markets are overblown. There are bots and programmed trading in all markets, including equities, bonds, and commodities markets. It’s not just crypto.

It could even be argued that bots (which are regulated in traditional markets) make markets more efficient. But at the liquidity-challenged smaller scale of crypto markets, the volatility is more apparent. A single overzealous bot can send the price totally off kilter.

Another problem is, of course, GIGO — Garbage In Garbage Out. A klutzy trader adding an extra 0 by accident, or a developer incorrectly coding a bot can create an occasional market mess.

But, according to Crypto.IQ’s Randall Oser, it’s just the sign of an immature market. “Ultimately, the markets and technology will squeeze those inefficiencies out of the market. So, net they’re going to create more depth, price discovery, and tighter spreads across exchanges. But between now and then there’s always going to be human error and computer error.”

Oser also dismisses the idea that regulation will fix the problem, either. So the question is – do we want a predictable but regulated market or a volatile and free market? The answer is probably somewhere in between.

Bots are apparently here to stay. So, let’s give the little guys some slack. They’ll occasionally get us some super-cheap Litecoin, at least until the singularity and Skynet takes over.